Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Black Dog Summer, by Miranda Sherry

Atria Books, ISBN 9781476779027, February 2015 (original publication July 2014)

Sally is killed in a farmstead massacre in the South African bush, and watches from the afterlife as her daughter Gigi and her extended family cope with the shocking events and the aftermath.

As shocking as the opening event is, this is mostly a gentle and moving story, as Gigi, Sally's sister Adele, Adele's husband Liam--whom Sally had also loved--and their children Tyler and Bryony, work through the aftermath. And Sally isn't gone; she finds herself bound to the world and her family, unable to move on until she deals with something that must be done first.
At first, she can't feel or reach Gigi at all. Her daughter is too traumatized, and getting through the days and nights with heavy sedation. For reasons that aren't clear at first, Adele and Liam, while reachable, are at first too painful for her. Adele's youngest, daughter Bryony, is her initial path in to her struggling family. Bryony is puzzled, resentful, and alarmed at first, by her zombie-like cousin. The cousins haven't met since Bryony was a toddler, because of the estrangement between the sisters. Gigi has grown up on a conservation farmstead, eating vegan, doing morning yoga, and learning an amazing amount of biology. Her cousin has grown up in suburban Johannesburg, with a far more conventional education. She escapes the stranger in her room by spying on the intriguing, attractive next door neighbor, Lesedi Matsunyane.

Lesedi, it turns out, is a modern, highly educated, but very traditional South African sangoma. She's running a consulting service from her home--against the Body Corporate rules--and she can see Sally.

She can also see the black dog that represents the forces of darkness threatening Bryony and her family.

As the story plays out, the conflicts and complicated emotional history entangling Sally, Adele, and Liam unfold, and as Gigi emerges from her fog, we begin to suspect she saw more than initially thought on that horrible summer morning.

Black Dog Summer grabs the emotions and doesn't let go.

Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley.